Working safely during coronavirus
This comprehensive guide offers advice to help employers create a COVID-secure workplace so far as is reasonably practicable and provides useful resources to both employers and employees on how to work safely during the pandemic.
Who is responsible for workplace health and safety?
The responsibility of workplace health and safety does not fall under one person. The majority of responsibility belongs to employers and business owners. According to HSE (Health and Safety Executive), “it is an employer's duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business.”
Employees also share workplace health and safety responsibilities with their employer. After all, it is the responsibility of the employees to cooperate with their employer and co-workers to help everyone meet their legal requirements and stay safe in the workplace.
Employers are responsible for carrying out both Operational risk assessments and a specific workplace coronavirus risk assessment to ensure that employees have all the information they need about the Hazards and risks within their workplace together with the control measures in place.
How to make your workplace safe
Employers must do everything they can, within reason, to support the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. Current UK government guidelines state that everyone should work from home wherever possible. If employees are unable to work from home, they can return to the workplace (dependent upon the nature of the business) but it is the employer’s responsibility to make appropriate arrangements for everyone to work safely.
To ensure your workplace is COVID-secure so far as is reasonably practicable, follow the UK government guidelines on safer working and make sure you take the following steps.
1. Review and update your risk assessments regularly
Employers and business owners need to review and update (if necessary) their risk assessments to comply with coronavirus considerations and protect employees. Updates should be undertaken whenever guidance or working conditions change.
According to HSE, the employer must:
- Identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
- Consider who could be at risk
- Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
- Act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, to control the risk.
Some rules, such as social distancing, may be different in England, Wales and Scotland and regional restrictions may also apply. Make sure you check the official guidance for the relevant country and/or region. To learn more about how to manage the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within the workplace, see our detailed ‘return to work’ guide.
2. Implement social distancing
As per UK government guidelines, everyone in the UK should stay two metres apart where possible. If this is not possible, people should be at least one metre apart and the employer must make additional changes to keep staff safe. Changes could include:
- Wearing face masks and coverings
- Using protective screens or barriers to separate people
- Staggering start times, breaks and finish times
- Working side by side instead of face to face
- Providing clear signage to remind employees of the two-metre distance rule
- Using markers such as floor tape or paint
- Using turnstiles and walkways in small, congested areas.
Employers should consider all spaces in the workplace, including common areas. Common areas could include kitchens, canteens, toilets, changing facilities and showers, reception areas, lifts, staircases and hallways.
3. Prioritise handwashing and cleaning
Coronavirus can transfer from people to surfaces and vice versa, which means that it is essential for employers to keep their workplace clean and to implement frequent handwashing for all staff. This is to help reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading and to keep your business COVID-secure so far as is reasonably practicable.
When completing your COVID-19 risk assessment, you’ll need to consider whether you require additional handwashing facilities to make it easier for staff to regularly wash their hands. You should also consider displaying signs and posters to help your workers practice good handwashing technique. Above all, it is your duty as the employer to provide the following:
- Handwashing facilities with running water, soap and paper towels
- Hand sanitising stations at all locations in addition to bathrooms/toilets
- Hand sanitising stations for people unable to wash their hands, such as delivery drivers.
You will need to increase the frequency of cleaning and pay closer attention to surfaces that are frequently touched. This could include:
- Door handles, window handles, handrails and bannisters
- Work surfaces (e.g. desks and counters)
- Monitors, mouses, keyboards, printers, phones, tablets and touch screens
- Taps, kettles, fridges, microwaves, utensils and cupboards
- Buttons (e.g. lift buttons and keypads)
- Toilets, dispensers, water coolers
- Control panels, pads and switches for machinery
- Any shared equipment (e.g. tools, vehicles, delivery boxes/parcels, machines)
- Vehicle interiors and exteriors (e.g. handles, steering wheels and seat belts).
Regularly deep-cleaning surfaces and objects is important. It’s essential to work with your staff to ensure everyone is cleaning surfaces and objects after each use. You should also make certain changes to reduce the need for cleaning to create a COVID controlled workplace by limiting movement and interactions, and reducing the need to touch surfaces or objects. This could include:
- Closing certain workspaces that are either spare or aren’t necessary to use
- Putting away non-essential items or objects
- Allocating specific work areas or vehicles to certain people
- Propping open non-emergency doors to reduce the need to touch handles
- Providing door/window hooks to employees so they don’t have to touch handles
- Fitting automatic sensor-operated hand sanitising stations
- Fitting automatic sensor-operated doors or foot plates to doors so they can be opened with feet rather than hands.
To discover more about cleaning and hygiene in the workplace (non-healthcare settings), refer to official UK government guidelines.
4. Communicate with your employees
It’s the employer’s duty to regularly communicate with their employees, to inform and involve them in any changes that are being made to manage the risk of spreading coronavirus. This is also a great opportunity to make sure any planned changes will work and hear employee ideas for operating your business safely.
Employers also need to communicate with their staff about any plans to change where they work from. Employers must inform employees when they can return to the workplace (once it’s safe to do so). For those who’ve previously returned to work, the employer should also tell staff whether they’ll need to work from home again.
It’s also important for employers to regularly check in with their employees regarding their health and wellbeing. Employers should offer their staff health and wellbeing support and signpost to external services, such as mental health support services like Mates in Mind.
5. Working from home
Whether employees are working from home permanently or temporarily, health and safety remains the employer’s responsibility. Therefore, if employees are working from home, employers may need to provide staff with the equipment they need e.g. computer, ergonomic chair, and communication and video conferencing facilities.
If your employees work with display screen equipment (DSE) – computers, laptops and tablets – and are working from home long-term, you must offer advice on reducing the risks from display screen work. For example, employers should advise their staff to:
- Break up long spells of DSE work with short breaks of at least five minutes every hour
- Regularly change position to avoid uncomfortable, static postures
- Stand up and stretch your legs or do stretching exercises
- Look away from screens and change focus or blink from time to time to avoid eye fatigue.
6. Protect vulnerable employees
Employers must consider the risk of coronavirus to employees who are particularly vulnerable, including older men, pregnant women, and those who have a high BMI or an underlying health condition such as diabetes, and those from (BAME) backgrounds.
You should make sure your existing controls, such as social distancing, handwashing and cleaning, are strictly enforced. You should also ensure vulnerable employees have individual discussions with their managers about their concerns and discuss the coronavirus risk management measures you have put in place to keep them safe.
Extremely vulnerable workers, such as pregnant women, can return to their workplace as long as there are suitable COVID controls in place, but should carry on working from home wherever possible. As an employer, you should do everything you can, within reason, to make sure that the workplace meets the current guidance as a minimum threshold standard.
COVID-19 related resources for employers
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges to businesses across the UK, there are many resources available to help employers create a COVID-secure workplace as far as is reasonably practicable.
- Read our useful advice and information about managing return to work
- Refer to official UK government guidelines for more about safely running your business and protecting yourself and your employees
- Refer to World Health Organization guidance for more information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and manage the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace
- Discover additional resources and information for employers and employees.
For expert support managing the risk of transmission within the workplace – and ultimate peace of mind – check out our COVID-19 Assurance Assessment Service.
Disclaimer: These recommendations have been produced in line with the UK government’s guidance and support.